This is 40 and I think I am into it

On January 5, while dealing with our chaotic daily routine, receiving loving well-wishes from near and far, opening cards that contained jokes about how old I was and eating a cake that had the legendary picture of me at my most insanely awkward teenage stage meeting Bon Jovi emblazoned across it's surface, I turned 40. I felt...the same. But the day, as it does, just due to that number screaming its cultural significance in your face  (FOUR-OH) at every juncture, felt weighty. And it wasn't due only to the amount of cake I ate. Have I talked about my situation with birthday cake on this site? About how much I love it, and love icing especially, and how I can't be around birthday cake it unless I'm eating it or planning the next time I'm going to eat some of it? Probably. I think about it all the time.

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In my semi-limited experience so far, being 40 includes some negatives, like having to schedule a mammogram - which, wait, don't get mad, I realize is important and life-saving, but is not something I am exactly looking forward to - and filling in my age on the forms one has to fill out on various occasions (like when I get my mammogram, that'll be one of them) and now having to put "40," and then having a small but somewhat crippling episode where I think about my life's accomplishments and if they're good enough and what if I'm never good enough??

There are positives, too, of course, like the increasing comfort I've accrued in recent years about - well - everything. My likes, and dislikes and decisions about how I spend my time. My hair and my height. Certain declarations, like the one I made as I sipped coffee in bed with J before the rush this morning that I am not going to get up before 6 am and exercise in February, I'm just not going to do that, or feel bad about not doing that. I'm 40 now.

It's trite and common but true: because of my age, and simply because of life, I care about different things than I used to, and I'm happy to report that caring about those things more feels better. I care more about quality time with my children and less about securing quality time with myself; this isn't because I'm a better person but because I've arrived, through the basic algorithms of time, at a less labor-intensive stage of parenthood, and my kids, now a little older, are more capable of hanging out in a real way. Even Aidy, at only three, is a delightful companion, which might be a result of the fact that, as our third and most effusively social child - stating, every single night, that she'd prefer "a friend" to sleep with - the brand of parenting she receives is far less stringent. We watched "Say Yes to the Dress" the other night well past her bedtime, all snuggled in bed and I didn't for a moment worry about how I'd eventually get her out of there.

I care more about doing the right thing, both because you should do the right thing and because I want to be a good role model for my children. I've started blathering on about important issues in an admittedly annoying fashion at times (usually in the car where the kids can't escape) which Nora calls me out on consistently: "We KNOW WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE KIND IT'S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING STOP TALKING." She can spot my good-willed tirades from a mile away at this point. Like when I perk up while listening to a public radio story and then turn it down and announce, "Hey guys! Do you know what 'civil rights' are?" and she starts groaning because, once again, I've interrupted something super fun they were talking about to deliver an impromptu ethics lesson.

I am not, not even in the slightest, trying to point out how wonderful I am now that I'm 40. Only that all the things I care about are much closer to the surface. I won't shut up about them. This probably a typical tendency for all of us as we get older, and is probably why children get so embarrassed by their parents.

There are the less overt moments that mark this age, too. Last night I put on a facial mask - the kind where the treatment adheres to an actual mask, with eye and mouth holes - and turned on the television. The children were asleep and J was playing guitar downstairs, and I was blissfully alone, practically brain dead from a few insanely busy days, and excited to channel surf, which, in this age of binging shows on Apple TV, we just don't do anymore.

I stumbled unto an MTV show called, "Siesta Key," the network's latest iteration of reality programming, featuring sun-kissed young people trying to figure out what to wear to a costume party and also if Garrett really did his girlfriend wrong, or something like that.

I watched - aghast at their youth, at the vapidity of this show - looking like the villain from every horror movie with that mask on. I had tea on the beside table, and the house was full and calm and warm. I relaxed on the pillows, feeling so acutely the distance covered since I was that young. And the possibility simmering in all the years ahead.

2018 goal (singular)

A few weeks ago I ran the Christopher Martin's Christmas Run for Children, an annual 5K in New Haven. The event raises money and collects toys for local families in need, which is wonderful and important. Less important but very fun? People who run this race like to dress up in festive fear, from Santa hats to full elf suits, and everyone drinks beer after. 

I signed up for this race -- and hold up, side note: I know, I'm talking about running again and if you want to hear the honest truth this hurts me more than it hurts you because, as I've mentioned, I've always regarded people who talk about athletic feats with a healthy dose of skepticism to say the very least, like, who are you? I know who I am. I like to read books on the couch or, I admit it, watch television with my husband,  is who I am. So, talking about running as much as I have on this blog over the last couple years, I know. I KNOW. It's weird. Just please realize that with me, it's never really about a feat. It's more about the process. Like how "Moby Dick" was actually about writing. 

ANYWAY, I signed up for this race in November because I hadn't been exercising at all and I decided that knowing I had a 5K coming up with inspire me. It did, at least a little. Running in the winter, and with our schedule this year, is challenging. The best time for me to do it is early in the morning before anyone wakes up, around 5:45 am, and as anyone who lives in Connecticut knows, that hour on a cold December morning is an unpleasant time to be cognizant.   I could also run later in the evenings, once J is home and the family is settling down for the evening, around 7:30 pm, but I'm much less likely to get motivated in the evening. This is a psychological truth about myself that I firmly recognize, and yet, when I'm lying in my warm bed and the alarm goes off at 5:45 am, I still think, "Hey! You could go tonight!"

The point being, I didn't run a ton before this race - a few morning and weekend runs in the month prior - but my body seems to have miraculously retained a base level of fitness following the marathon last year, and I knew I could run three miles without collapsing. So on that very cold Sunday morning, me, J and the kids (my cheering section, plus I thought they'd get a kick out of all the costumes) drove downtown and I found my place at the start line among some very serious-looking runners as well as a lot of less-serious looking runners who were already talking about the beer. 

This race is a nice, easy course around New Haven, starting and ending on the eastern side of the city. I wasn't out to reach any personal goals (please be aware: I almost never am) but I also thought that maybe I'd be able to run at a decent clip, doing a little better than I'd done in the past when running 5Ks. I believed this despite the fact that I had barely been running, not regularly at all since the marathon, over a year before, and barely at all in the weeks before this particular race. Whatever! I guess I just figured I could harness the power of the holiday spirit and pick up the pace. 

I realized during the first mile that this was, you know, faulty logic. I was pushing it harder than I normally do when out for my infrequent jogs, and was feeling the first mile. I didn't worry about it (one thing the marathon truly did for me was change my mindset when dealing with physical strain, as well as teach me about pacing myself), I simply started thinking about how I wanted to handle the next two.

I thought about this one truth that I know for sure, but I forget in my day-to-day actions, kind of like how I know there is no way in hell I'm going to go for a run at night, when I could be getting down to business relaxing. 

I thought, "Ok. You could continue trying to run at this same pace and get it over with. Or you could slow down, and it'll take a little longer." And, the kicker: "Both options are equally difficult." This was the reality. And it's the reality so much of the time, at least in my sphere. I wasn't killing myself out there. I just wanted to keep doing a good job. And the difference between a good job, which I was totally capable of, and a subpar job, which I was also obviously capable of, didn't really have to do with my energy level. It had to do with my mindset. 

(Oh my god, this post is getting very "be-your-best-self" and I apologize. Maybe it's the fact that New Year's is coming, or that I'm about to turn 40 - FORTY!!! Whatever the case, I apologize, but I have to finish. Bear with me.) 

This thing is true often at various junctures throughout my day, and I think a lot of you might recognize it, because I'm not talking about some special feeling I have, I'm talking about a very regular, very common feeling that occurs when you've got a lot going on, and trying hard - old school, like when you were a kid, giving it your best - seems like the more difficult option. 

This happens to me most when I'm doing two things: writing, and dealing with my children. Two totally different activities, requiring totally different skill sets. And yet, the same feeling.

At night, maybe J isn't home yet, and I really am exhausted after a day of switching between working and parenting mindsets, dealing with a few tantrums, having not gotten enough sleep. I'm trying to get the kids to brush their teeth and put their pajamas on so we can get bedtime rolling, and it feels so much easier to slide into the couch and announce that I'm tired and let the whole affair turn into pandemonium, because that's what will happen if I lose sight of the goal. 

That feels so much easier. Rather than summoning the energy neccessary to ignore the whining, march the children upstairs, put the toothbrushes in their hands and fully engage with the various needs of my adorable, infuriating little crew. It feels easier to let it all slip, but it isn't. Summoning the energy, doing it right, is easier, quicker and more fulfilling. Every single time. 

When I'm writing - or doing any work - I tend to fall into the same trap. Ignoring distractions and indulging (yes, it's like indulging when I allow myself the proper space) in a solid hour of putting words on the page is so satisfying. It always feels easier, though, to resist work until the last minute, try to write through distractions - including distracting myself - or when I truly don't have the time. It feels easier then setting deadlines and getting it done. But listen to me. It is not. Just like running that 5K a little bit faster than normal and getting it done is the same amount of difficult, or probably even less difficult, as running it at a slower pace.

Both take work. One feels infinitely better.

I'm guessing you're like, "Um, ok, so your massive realization is that it feels better and is more productive to work hard and do a good job? And you're just figuring this out?" 

What I'm telling you is, "Ok, agreed, that's pretty ridiculous. I have always known this, because everybody knows it on a certain level, but what I'm actually saying is that far too often I choose the other option because it feels easier, and more pleasant. What I'm realizing as I become older and possibly wiser, is that it isn't."

And that's what I want to think about this coming year. It's what I want to think about as I embark on new creative projects, having recently left my job at a non-profit and now writing full time, working on my own clock and often setting my own deadllines. It's what I want to think about as I deal with my busy little familiy and the fights that break out between my nine, six and three-year-old, and as we take on new "va-ventures" (that's Aidy speak, and I'm never teaching her the right way to say it).

Less fretting, more action. The former doesn't make anything easier, although I realize it's ok to devolve into a session every now and then (especially first thing in the morning when you're barely awake, J, and I decide to unleash every single one of my currrent anxieties before you've even taken your first sip of coffee, SORRY! you're the best).

During the last mile of the 5K I noticed a man just ahead of me in a full reindeer suit. He was a big guy, and I wouldn't exactly say he had a runner's body. The only festive gear I had on was socks with a Christmas lights print and a Santa hat that I'd abandoned in the beginning of the race because it was annoying me. Otherwise, I was all business. 

I could easily pass him, I thought. If you can't pass the guy in the full reindeer suit before the finish line, what is even happening?! Pass him! Pass him!

I couldn't do it. Because, bottom line, I'm not a fast runner. But in 2018 I'm going to run as fast as I can. 

A note on saying goodbye

My father died on June 26, 2017, one hour into his 78th birthday. I have had a strange, comical urge when asked "How was your summer?" by people who don't know, to answer, "Fine! My dad died!" but haven't gone through with it yet, thank god. 

Four months before, he was fine. He was the one-of-a-kind, full of gusto Fred Rotondaro, aka Dad, aka Pops aka Papa Raspa, a moniker he gave himself when he signed his name that way in an email (misspellings things in emails was a hilarious specialty of his). He was booking trips and rallying political activists. He had presence and influence in all the right ways. He had nights out with my mom and lunches with friends. He was very mad about Trump and the next minute wanted me to know about this fabulous new red wine he'd discovered. The first thing I tell people when they say how sorry they are is that I miss him so much, but the fact that my dad lived such a full life makes it easier, and inspires me to do the same. And it's 100 percent true. 

He died of glioblastoma, which is a very aggressive brain cancer. I learned a lot about the disease while we were dealing with his illness, and learned a lot of other things too, like that if you are trying to get tons of calories into a smoothie, macademia nuts is a good option. I learned that my little brother is an absolute hero, and was even more convinced of the fact that my mom is the champion of managing the most challenging situations. I reaffirmed that being part of the Rotondaro family of four is one of the greatest honors of my life. 

I also learned is that the circumstances surrounding a person's sickness or death are often complicated, and that's a lesson I'll carry with me, hopefully making me a more compassionate person. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that someone passed away and exclaimed, "Wait. What happened? I didn't even know he was sick." It was valuable to witness that these things don't always play out in an easy-to-follow narrative, despite everybody's best efforts.

It's too much to write the whole story here, but my dad's sickness revealed itself with a stammer he suddenly developed - a type of speech aphasia - and after his first trip to the hospital, the whole thing went very quickly. What we thought was a minor stroke wasn't; what we thought was a small, operable brain tumor was a high-grade cancer with a harsh prognosis; there was a car accident and other complications. There were brilliant, aggressive doctors and there was our amazing caretaker Janie, and there were so many other details that played a part, but in the end, he didn't go through chemo and radiation, because of those complications and the tumor's rapid growth. Treatment, the incredibly wise doctors told my mom and brother during one of their visits, wouldn't improve his quality of life or increase his time with us. My father was stoic and funny throughout the experince, never losing his sense of self. He died peacefully at home. 

It's impossible to know, but we feel with this kind of disease, and considering my dad's personality, the way it happened might have been a blessing. Let's put it this way: he liked having his own form of transporation when we went to social events, because although he was an incredibly friendly person, he never wanted a late night. This was a man who always wanted to leave the party early. Everyone knew of the "Fred exit."

"Dad did it just right," my brother told me in a text shortly after the funeral, when I was feeling low and asking a lot of "what ifs." Vinnie - then, and many times since - gave me so much solace with his assessment. I agreed. 

We tried to provide regular updates, but I know that for all our friends and family, it went really fast. Now, in retrospect, I see that. But when it was happening? I was so entrenched in his illness, both from afar and periodically in person - visiting my family in Maryland whenever I could - and it seemed endless. Often that was wonderful, as though time were doing me a favor, slowing down just enough so that me and my family could process each step, and spend hours talking about and researching my dad's condition. Most importantly, so that we could spend unhurried time together. Of course, when I was worried about his condition, or waiting for information, the hours seemed like days. That was less pleasant.

But - and I know it sounds really crazy - during those intense, eventful weeks, when I'd sometimes go to bed texting my brother until I fell asleep, we had a lot of good times.

Hard times too, I mean, I'm not a lunatic (HI JANIE!) who thinks a parent dying is a walk in the park, but it was an amazing experience, those few months marked by so many tangible, ineffible details; long nights over bottles of wine, discussing brain injuries; my sister-in-law Audrey and uncle Mark trying to light paper lanterns to release out over the Bay, as we laughed at their repeated failure; giving my dad 100 kisses on the forehead as I marched in and out of his bedroom, his smiles in return; and way back at the beginning, eating at the seafood restaurant my wonderful cousin Sam manages in Baltimore the night after my dad's surgery, the cheerful crowd such a salve to a stressful day.

The funeral was held at a Catholic Church, where the helpful priest informed us that having a trumpet player inside during the service would be, ahem, "a little too much," but that we could have him playing "When the Saints Go Marching In" (which my father had informed us on many occasionas he wanted at his funeral) just outside. So as the numerous attendees departed into the hot summer sun, there was our guy playing cheerfully under a lone tree in the churchyard. I could hear the somber silence turn into a ripple of laughter, and people started singing along.

Then there was a party, where old family friends, colleagues and high school and college buddies who had traveled to support us lingered for long enough that pizza was ordered not once, but twice

My dad would have loved it. He would have absolutely loved it. 

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I could try to express here what my dad was like, and what he meant to me, but, first of all, how long do you guys have?Secondly, I think you know. You know if you knew him, and you know if you've ever talked to me about him. You know if you've read my stories about him, or been on the receiving end of one of his many emails. If you've shared a meal with him, or been there for the end of the meal when he pulls out 1,000 different after-dinner drinks, including grappa for the bravest souls. You know if you're from where he's from, in the coalmining country of northeastern Pennsylvania, if you worked with him in an office, or on one of his amazing projects, always railing against injustice, always connecting the right people. 

You know the important parts, his great loves and his funny habits. His adoration of my mother and of our family; his proclivity for striking up a conversation with every single person he met (even though they sometimes didn't want to talk, DAD);  his penchant for muttering "Whhhhhaaaaaaaaaatever" when a conversation got longwinded.

I could go on about him forever, but to be totally honest my purpose here is a little more selfish. Because what I really set out to do in writing this was to talk about how I'm feeling.  

In terms of grieving, wise friends who've been through similar things told me that the funeral would be the easy part - that it would get harder from there - and it was easy to see their point. At first there are so many people wishing you well and sharing memories. Then, there are less (although if you're lucky like me, you've still got a lot of people to talk to, including my mother and brother, a husband who does the best job ever taking care of me when I'm feeling sad and the most loving friends in the universe).

Now, a few months out, I'd say my feelings are fairly simple to explain. I feel great about my relationship with my father and about his full, rewarding, inspiring life. But I miss him. 

I just miss him. 

My dad and I were very close. We had the parent-child relationship everybody wants: open and loving and supportive, complete with plenty of visits and, yes, prone to the occasional, explosive fight. But also? We talked all the time. We talked on the phone when we were bored. I sent him emails about amusing little things that would happen during my day, including things the kids said or did, and more serious emails about writing projects. I asked him where to pitch stories and if he'd edit my pieces. We talked about politics, and about strategies to get Republicans and Democrats to talk to one another in a civil way. We talked about how my brother was always trying to get my parents to drink less coffee and how ridiculous that was (Vinnie, it's ridiculous). 

I am so fortunate that I have a mother (HI MOM you're the best!) who I can also email randomly with funny pictures and random little stories, and who I can call whenever I want career or other life advice, or just want to chat. Who encourages me and, let's be frank, is a much better editor than my dad, who was always "getting back" to me on things (I know what you were up to, you were NAPPING). 

But still. Lately, I'll have a conversation with someone or an experience with the kids - like recently when I took them to town hall and I bored them with a monologue about what the mayor does and the democratic process in general - and I just want to tell him. I can't, though, because he's not there anymore, and it still seems so impossible for that to be true. 

I know that this part will get easier and that I'm just going to have to be patient. There are things however, things right now, that help immensely. 

One of them is the idea that he's still around. Now, I'm not sure what I think about the afterlife (don't tell the Catholics!) but I am a big fan of the American transcendentalist movement. The idea of the "oversoul" and of all people  being connected. During the eulogy I gave at my father's service, I read the end of Walt Whitman's glorious "Song of Myself," a poem my dad had read many times over, and that me and Vinnie read to him while he was sick. 

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,

I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags. 

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, 

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles. 

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, 

But I shall be good health to you nevertheless, 

And filter and fibre your blood. 

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, 

Missing me one place search another, 

I stop somewhere waiting for you.

I don't know exactly what Whitman was talking about when he wrote these lines, but to me they are a beautiful description of life's continuity, even in death. Although I never would have imagined this, since my father died I find such comfort in the wind rusting the tree branches; the crash of the waves on the rocks in Maine. I surprise myself by thinking, "there you are."

There are human reminders, too, including my children and the memories they'll carry. Just last summer my dad took Gabriel to art camp one-hour away from the house in Boothbay every single day for a week, afterwards stopping at a hot dog stand where he'd buy my son a dog, a chocolate milk and - Gabriel recently admitted - a brownie (that is too much sugar!)

I took the kids for "Nonno walks" this summer, gathering treats for the house and striking up conversations with whoever, as well as stopping by a favorite shop to buy them a gift. "You get to choose one book each!" I told them, proud of my emulating his generous spirit. "Um Mommy," Nora helpfully informed me, "Nonno would have let us buy lots of books." 

Another thing that has helped recently is that I've allowed myself to start talking to my him. No, not out loud, but whenever I have those previously mentioned moments, wanting to share something specific with him. I recognize that, logically speaking, all I'm doing is talking to a memory, but so what? When you've known someone quite literally since the moment you were born, it seems far too difficult to so abruptly end the dialouge. So I talk to him occasionally, and it's not always the most urgent stuff, like this morning when we'd run out of beans and I didn't have coffee for two and a half hours after waking up (can you even believe it?)

There's another thing too, a mantra of sorts. And it helps me the most. 

It's so simple but so true, and it works in every situation: when I wonder why this all happened, when I find myself crying in the car or when I'm feeling really good.

I just remind myself: because of you, I will be a better person.

See? Nothing major. Just that sentence, so adaptable. A call to action, an easy promise. 

Because of you I will be a better person. Because of you I will be the kind of person who loves hearing mundane stories about everyday life. Because of you I will bring my husband coffee in bed. Because of you I won't let myself wallow - there are too many things to get done! Because of you I'll book that new restaurant. Because of you I'll make friends with strangers. Because of you - ok, I will buy them lots of books. I will finish "Ulysses," have alone time when I need it and carry on your good fights. 

When I'm out for a run by the water or caught up in the mindless insanity of the day. When I think about the ways we'll celebrate all these memories for years to come. When the wind is rusting the leaves on a quiet September afternoon. Because of you I will be a better person. Because of you I will be a better person. Because of you. Because of you. Because of you. 

Hello Connecticut

About ten years ago, on a weekend visit to New Haven in advance of J starting his post-doc in microbiology at Yale, he took me to Anchor Bar, a classic establishment in a city I didn't know; a city that was going to become my new home, at least for a little while. I ordered white wine, which was served in a stemmed glass filled to the absolute brim. I had to lower my head to take a sip while it sat on the table so it wouldn't spill, a cheerful beginning to our new adventure. 

And a new adventure it was. Over the next few months I got a new job - heading into New York City by train a few times a week to write for a start-up - we bought a house and I discovered I was pregnant. Nora was born at Yale-New Haven Hospital in September of 2008 and, suddenly, there in the bright white light of the operating room where they skillfully peformed an unplanned c-section, I became a mother. J and I met our blissfully quiet and inquisitive chubby cheeked infant while Bob Marley played in the background. 

The next few months brought new changes when I (like so many that year) lost my job at the start-up and started spending much more time at home with my new baby. I started looking for freelance writing work, but the transition was tough. I'd always envisioned working full time once I had kids, and I struggled. If I could have seen into the future and realized how fleeting infancy is, I would have soaked up every moment with Nora, who was (and is) an unfathomably good child. But the trials of new motherhood aren't something you can explain away and, besides, it got much better. 

When Nora was just two weeks old, I met my very first mom friend, Amy, at a breastfeeding support group where I realized with intense joy that, OH MY GOD, there are so many of us! Amy and I had playdates with our tiny babies, which were really dates for us. I continued to make friends at child-centric outings and at music classes where I had to sit on the floor, keep the beat and sing while the toddlers roamed the room, seemingly uninterested, although we were assured by the knowledgable teacher that they were learning. This was very far from my comfort zone and the daydreams I had of  meeting with publishers for established writing projects by that point in my life.

But it was ok because I was making new friends and getting out of the house. It was fun, meaningful and memorable. I was building a life in New Haven, a place that, as I explained to nearly everyone we met, we were living temporarily while J completed his post-doc, probably for the next three to five years. 

This sentiment colored our world. When the topic of school came up, I explained that there was no way we'd still be living there once Nora was old enough for kindergarten. J would have gotten a job as a professor running his own lab in some other city by then. I waited an exceedingly long time to replace our malfunctioning dishwasher, because we'd be moving soon anyway, right? And I freelanced instead of looking for a full-time job, which fit both the "transient" and "new mom" aspects of my life. I wrote essays about family life and stories about local businesses. Those months, then years, weren't lost, just anticipatory. 

When you're building a life, though, knowing what's next isn't mandatory. I found a drycleaner I liked, and, despite us almost never having drycleaning to do, she always remembered me and asked about the family. I found a great hairdresser who, like me, loved to gossip; I was devastated when she moved away. My friends and I planned monthly dinners to catch up, had long chats about parenting filled with lifesaving advice, and got a night off from the bedtime routine. Gabriel was born in April, 2011, and motherhood the second time around was way easier; I fawned over his tiny yawns, let him sleep on my chest whenever we got the chance, and didn't fret so much about the long, restless nights. Nora went to pre-K at the magnet school where she still goes today - a fourth grader! - because that "not living here once Nora was old enough for kindergarten" turned out to be, you know, way off. 

But we didn't know. When he was ready, J started looking for jobs, a process that often takes awhile in his field. Sometimes years. He had funding, though, and long-term projects and great health insurance. We had our house and friends and visits from my family that included day trips and long talks and New Haven pizza every time. We had J's parents just a few towns over, and his aunts, uncles and cousins (as well as some of mine) all over the place, providing babysitting and company that made our life infinintely easier - and much more fun. "I didn't know how helpful having family nearby would be, especially with kids," I said to people constantly. "It's amazing."

We attended family Christmas parties, weddings, funerals and baptisms. Many of them ended with late nights in bars, or post-celebration celebrations, like the time we all drank wine on the patio at in my in-laws after one of Nora's birthday parties, then got in the moonbounce. Remember you guys?!

There were scientist get-togethers that incuded classic rock singalongs, trips to Maine and saying sad goodbyes to Yale friends who were moving on (with the promise of future visits in cities all over the world). Adriana was born in the summer of 2014 - my third time heading into labor and delivery at Yale, knowing the drill by then - and then we were a family of five, besotted with the newest member of our crew. Friends thoughtfully brought us meals and life with three children carried on in a less harried way than I'd imagined while pregant (at least until she started walking...).

We constantly complained about the Connecticut winter and booked sunny February getaways, hosted houseguests in our by that point cramped quarters. Gabe was in the preschool at Neighborhood Music School, a local non-profit, and I had long, philosophical talks with the program's director about our always-temporary arrangement, calling them my "therapy sessions" (thank you, Christine!) I took a job there, writing marketing materials and grants. "Well," I figured, "someday we will move somewhere else, but for now we are here."

We spent sunsets by the Long Island Sound with neighbors, sharing wine and beer while our children pulled each other in a green wagon. I met regularly with some of J's female colleagues who'd started a professional support group of sorts, and we worked through problems big and small, becoming very close friends, there for each other  at a moment's notice. We drank coffee in bed and made weekend plans and rearranged the house to create more space; we decluttered and painted and fenced in the backyard when our wonderful, old dogs died just a month apart and we ended up with a new puppy.


One night we were out at a place we love called Ordinary, a refurbished space that had previously housed one of New Haven's most well-known bars. It's right around the corner from Anchor, which at that point had been shut down and reopened as a classier establishment, too. It probably doesn't serve such full glasses of wine anymore, which is a shame.

We were chatting with the bartender, who just so happened to have gone to high school with J, and was telling us how he'd recently moved into our neighborhood. He was making us a special cocktail before we left to see a band we liked at a nearby venue. Just then a couple we are friends with walked in and there were hugs and hellos. The kids were home with a sitter we trusted, and the bar was full of happy people. For the very first time I thought, "Wait, what if we don't leave?" 

I know. Funny that I hadn't thought that a million times before. But it seemed such an unlikely possibility, considering J's prospects were so much better if we looked all over, and the possibilities in Connecticut so sparse.  I'd never considered New Haven my forever-home. Doing so would have made it a million times harder to say goodbye, especially considering it was going to be so hard to say goodbye no matter what. 

And then the best news came: we don't have to. 

This summer J accepted an exciting position at a lab in Connecticut! It's about 40 minutes from our house, a not-bad commute that could be remedied by us moving a bit closer, a possibility we're exploring. Because now we can explore all the possibilities. Because we know what's next.

The refrain has changed. WE ARE STAYING, and all the things I always imagined would be part of our past tense New Haven years can continue to be part of our present. Plus who knows what else? A new house? Getting involved in the PTO? A new baby? Oh my god, I am kidding. 

It is a tangible shift. I've found myself more eager to explore the city, plan daytrips to unknown parts of the state, stop hating winter and - although our life will probably remain at least base level insane - make our daily schedule less frantic, more relaxing.

The other day I was having coffee with someone I'd just met for work, and as it happens sometimes, ended up saying the truest thing to a complete stranger: "I was afraid to fall in love with it here before, because I knew we'd have to leave. But now I can." 

Last weekend, being home after lots of time spent out of town this summer, we decided to go for a drive to check out New Haven neighborhoods and after awhile, the inevitable occurred: everybody wanted a snack. In search of lemondade and iced coffee and some kind of baked good we ended up at a bookshop and cafe downtown. 

J parked the minivan and we got out of the car to late afternoon sun and the kind of perfect summer weather that happens only about four days a year. 

I looked at my family there on the sidewalk, and said, "This is where we live!" 

And Nora, my always practical, now expertly-sarcastic Nora - who will, in the blink of an eye be a freshman at college asking her hallmates ubiquitous question, "Where are you from?" and answering in turn - replied, "Um, this sidewalk is not where we live - "

"Ok Nora," I said. "This is not where we live, but you get it. This is where we live now!"

"I mean, we actually live in a house - "

"Stop it! You know what I mean! This is home!"

She smiled. She knew what I meant. We walked down the street, in no hurry at all.